Who are some of the Americans behind bars in Russia, and what are the prospects for their release?

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Arrests of Americans in Russia have become increasingly common with relations sinking to Cold War lows.

U.S. citizens jailed on various charges in the country include a vacationing corporate security executive and a dual national visiting her family in Tatarstan. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was convicted of espionage Friday and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial that his employer and the U.S. government denounced as a sham.

Washington accuses Moscow of using U.S. citizens as bargaining chips, but Russia insists they all broke the law.

While high-profile prisoner exchanges have occurred in the past, the prospects of further swaps are unclear, and so is the overall number of those in Russian custody.

Who are some of the known prisoners?

EVAN GERSHKOVICH — The 32-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter who was convicted Friday was detained on a reporting trip in March 2023 in the city of Yekaterinburg. Russia alleges Gershkovich was “gathering secret information” at the CIA’s behest about a facility that produces and repairs military equipment. It provided no evidence to support the accusations. Gershkovich, his employer and the U.S. government deny the charges.

PAUL WHELAN — The 54-year-old corporate security executive from Michigan was arrested in 2018 in Moscow, where he was attending a friend’s wedding, convicted two years later of espionage, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He maintains his innocence, saying the charges were fabricated.

TRAVIS LEAKE — The musician was convicted on drug charges Thursday and sentenced to 13 years in prison. An Instagram page describes him as the singer for the band Lovi Noch (Seize the Night). Court officials have said he is a former paratrooper.

MARC FOGEL — The teacher was sentenced to 14 years in prison, also on drug charges. The Interfax news agency said Fogel taught at the Anglo-American School in Moscow and had worked at the U.S. Embassy. Interfax cited court officials as saying Fogel has admitted guilt.

GORDON BLACK — The 34-year-old staff sergeant stationed at Fort Cavazos, Texas, was convicted in June in Vladivostok of stealing and making threats against his girlfriend, and was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. He had flown to Russia from his U.S. military post in South Korea without authorization and was arrested in May after she accused him of stealing from her, according to U.S. and Russian authorities.

ROBERT WOODLAND — Woodland, a dual national, was convicted of drug trafficking earlier this month and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Russian media reported his name matches a U.S. citizen interviewed in 2020 who said he was born in the Perm region in 1991 and adopted by an American couple at age 2. He said he traveled to Russia to find his mother and eventually met her on a TV show.

ALSU KURMASHEVA — Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian national, was arrested in 2023 in her hometown of Kazan. The Prague-based editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir service was visiting her ailing mother. She faces multiple charges, including not self-reporting as a “foreign agent” and spreading false information about the Russian military. The Committee to Protect Journalists called the accusations “spurious.”

KSENIA KHAVANA — Khavana, 33, was arrested in Yekaterinburg in February on treason charges, accused of collecting money for Ukraine’s military. Independent Russian news outlet Mediazona identified her by her maiden name of Karelina, and said she had U.S. citizenship after marrying an American. She returned to Russia from Los Angeles to visit family. The rights group The First Department said the charges stem from a $51 donation to a U.S. charity that helps Ukraine.

DAVID BARNES — An engineer from Texas, Barnes was arrested while visiting his sons in Russia, where their mother had taken them. His supporters say the woman made baseless claims of sexual abuse that already had been discredited by Texas investigators but he was convicted in Russia anyway and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

ROBERT GILMAN — Identified in the media as a former U.S. Marine, Gilman was arrested in 2022 for allegedly assaulting a police officer, convicted and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. The sentence was reduced to 3 1/2 years on appeal. This year, Gilman is facing new charges of disrupting the work of a penitentiary facility and assaulting an investigator. He reportedly admitted guilt.

EUGENE SPECTOR — A Russian-born U.S. citizen in prison on a bribery conviction, Spector in 2023 faced new charges of espionage, although details of the accusations are unclear. Spector, a former executive at a medical equipment company in Russia, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 2022 for allegedly enabling bribes to an aide to former Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

Is the U.S. negotiating their release?

Gershkovich and Whelan have gotten the most attention, with the State Department designating both as wrongfully detained. The designation is applied to only a small subset of Americans jailed by foreign countries.

Those cases go to a special State Department envoy for hostage affairs, who tries to negotiate their release.

The U.S. successfully negotiated swaps in 2022 for WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine veteran Trevor Reed — both designated as wrongfully detained. Moscow got arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence, and pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, serving 20 years for cocaine trafficking.

It is unclear whether negotiations are in the works for all American citizens behind bars in Russia.

What are the prospects of prisoner swaps?

In December, the State Department said it had made a significant offer for Gershkovich and Whelan but Russia rejected it.

Officials did not give details. Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked about releasing Gershkovich, pointed to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for “liquidating a bandit” who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers in Chechnya.

That appeared to refer to Vadim Krasikov, serving a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday said the “special services” of Washington and Moscow were discussing an exchange. Russian officials have always indicated no exchange could come before a verdict.


Tucker reported from Washington.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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